chalice with rainbow flame
First Unitarian Universalist Church of Essex County

Excerpts from Church Survey, First Unitarian Church of Essex County ... Prepared by The Rev. Dale Dewitt, Regional Director, Middle Atlantic States Council, AUA, 1938

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The Community as a Field

Orange, New Jersey, is not a distinct community, but is related to four other sections which are organized into separate municipalities, and which in many respects form one large community of the Oranges, united in a number of projects of community life. The municipality of Orange is geographically on one side of this large community, partly surrounded by the others, but distances are not so great as to make its field of service any less than that of all the Oranges and Maplewood. East, West, and South Orange lie on their respective directional sides of Orange and Maplewood further to the south, East Orange being in the general direction of New York cITY. There is no sharp distinction between the communities geographically, and a stranger would not know where one municipality ended and another began. Organizations like the Welfare Federation, the Y.M.C.A. and the Y.W.C.A. serve the larger community of the Oranges.

While the unity of the Oranges geographically and in regard to certain activities is natural, there are real differences between the five mucipalities, which have some bearing on the opportunities for a liberal church.

The total population of the Oranges and Maplewood, according to 1930 census was 162,697. The population by communities was as follows: Orange--35,399; East Orange--68,020; South Orange-13,630; West Orange, 24,327; Maplewood, 21,321. East Orange, Maplewood, and South Orange are populated largely by moderately well-to-do commuters, South Orange having more of the higher income group. West Orange is partly a well-to-do commuter's suburb, but with a large number of industrial workers. Orange has both commuters and industrial workers, a very large foreign population and a large colored population. Orange has changed greatly in the last twenty-five years, having become a less desirable residence or commuters' area. A housing survey indicates that there are practically no vacant lots, that 30% of the buildings were built before 1893, and 61% before 1903. In the more recent years in a period since 1903, a large number of apartment houses have been erected. The population figures for 1930 give the general composition of the population as follows:
native white, native parentage10,949
native white, foreign or mixed parentage12,737
foreign born, white parentage6,667
The largest number of foreign born in Orange are Italian. The next large group is Irish and the third German.

The comparative figures on illiteracy are interesting:
West Orange1.1%
East Orange1.1%
South Orange0.6%

In the matter of delinquency, the records of arrests indicate a high figure for Orange in relation to the other Communities. The number of arrests in proportion to the size of the population was 20% higher during the period 1928 to 1933 than in the highest of the other communities (exception, Maplewood[fn2: in Maplewood, vigilance of police in regard to motor vehicle violations accounts for high number of arrests. One of few cities in country showing no deaths from automobile accidents.]) . . . .

Data with regard to libraries is of interest in reflecting the situation in Orange. The Orange library, which in 1933 was fifty years old, according to the American Library Association standards should have had a budget of $64,500. It was short $43,388. . . . 28% of the population of Orange and West Orange held library cards where 40% of the population would be standard. The American Library Standard for books per capita given out during the year is 9 whereas the Orange library in 1933 gave out only 2.5 books per capita. The library has 51000 books. The American Library Association standard for the Community would be 129,000.

The most recent figures (August 1938) show 1 in every 10 person in Orange to be on direct relief; in East Orange, 1 in every 40; West Orange, 1 in every 32; South Orange, 1 in every 36; and Maplewood, 1 in every 102 persons.

Statistics show that Orange has a considerably larger number of package liquor stores and a larger number of public drinking places than any of the communities in the area. . . .

It is clear both from available data such as given above and the opinions of residents that Orange as an immediate community is much less favorable to the progress of a liberal progressive church (Unitarian) than the surrounding communities.

Responses to such inquiry as could be casually made indicated that Orange is a conservative Community religiously. A protestant minister acquainted with the church situation in the Oranges over a period of time was able to mention only three or four somewhat progressive or liberal churches in all the Oranges. These were not located in Orange. The First Presbyterian Church in Orange, the oldest and most thriving church of the Community is represented as being quite conservative. . . . The opinion was expressed however by a number of people that in so large a community as Orange, there are many liberal-minded people, and that in parts of East and West Orange, in South Orange and Maplewood, there were many progressive-minded people who should respond to a progressive and liberal leadership such as the Unitarian church might offer.

There are nine Baptist Churches in Orange, one Christian Science, two Congregational, three Episcopal, one Evangelical Free, one Greek orthodox, on Jewish, one Lutheran, one Methodist, three Methodist Episcopal, four Presbyterian, four Roman Catholic, one Swedenborgian, one Unitarian, two Church of God and one Gospel Hall. This is a total of 36.

The Church as an Organization


. . . The building is for the most part in good condition. There is a very attractive church entrance and auditorium, the latter seating about 150. There is a parish house which will seat about 150 and which contains a stage for dramatic presentations. In addition, there is one large room and four small ones. There is a basement with an adequate heating system. A satisfactory organ is in the church auditorium in the front. Five groups could meet simultaneously in the building. An estimated value of the property given by the President of the Board of Trustees, is church and Parish House, $15,000; organ furniture and fittings, $4,000; land (100' lot) $5,000; total, $24,000. The church presents a very attractive but modest appearance. Landscaping is a problem and although there is space, children playing on the lawn, prevents it being kept in good condition.

Membership and Attendance

The records given indicate that the membership has decreased in the last three years from 115 to 108.

The attached table, giving church attendance averages, show a decrease from 1930 to 1938 of from 62 to 31. . . .

The church membership is made up of an intelligent middle class group, most of whom are employed. The majority of the people are elderly. On the Sunday morning, when the Director attended a representative service, there were 27 present, about 13 of whom could be spoken of as elderly, 10 near or approaching middle age, and four definitely younger people. A list of the 26 most regular attendantys made up by one who is familiar with the congregation indicates according to his judgment of age that there are 17 people above 50 years of age, 13 above 60, 4 between 40 and 50, and 5 under 40. Those who comprise the present congregation, according to all of the statements which were made, are quite loyal, and have a genuine love for the church.

Church activities

The church activities consist at present of worship services at 11:00 on Sunday, four or five children who meet with the minister at Sunday School time, a group of five or six young men who meet with the minister cccasionally for dinner, and an active Alliance. An only partially successful effort has been made to have a music group. The church is open only on Sundays and occasionally on Mondays when a Red Cross Sewing Group from the Alliance meets or regular Alliance meetings are held.

Questionnaire on the interest of the people

An attached questionnaire was mailed to fifty of the presumably most interested people of the church. . . . Twenty-eight replies were received from which the following data has been taken. Twenty five are willing to contribute to the church. Fifteen are willing to attend regularly the church services, six occasionally, three seldom, four indefinite answers. Seventeen were willing to participate actively in the church life, six were unwilling to, five were indefinite. . . . The question was asked, "What new activities would you like to see added to the church program?" Only thirteen answered this question and the tone of the answers was discouraging. . . . One person stated under this heading that he favored closing the church. . . .


It should be stated that in personal conference with members of the church, there was a general agreement that there was a dearth of leadership for any new activities among the church people. Indeed some stated that this was the weakest point in the life of the church.

In visiting with the members of the church, I found a strong spirit of loyalty, but a frank discouragement.

. . . . All agreed that it is necessary for the future of the Church to have a good Sunday School and strong young people's work, but only two or three families have children of younger Sunday school age and felt the need for it. At one time, under a previous ministry, there was a stronger Sunday School and a bus service was provided at considerable expense for the children. The Sunday School has steadily declined since the bus service was discontinued for purposes of economy. It was stated that many of the children then attending church school were not from families in the church, and that there was no very great appreciation of it by the parents. . . .

General denominational relationships of the church have been good. The minister and some of the people have attended the Metropolitan Conference meetings in New York City regularly . . . The church is acquainted with the larger work of our denomination.


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The Church

The Orange Church at present does not offer an encouraging picture. . . . The church with less than thirty attending Sunday Services on the average, no Sunday School or young people's work to speak of, no activity for men, and no constructive community relationships, composed of an older group in which the interest of men has diminished greatly and which has an uncertain financial future, can not possibly be considered adequate according to any standards that might be set up for a church. It is beyond all question in a dangerous position.

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The circumstances of the present situation

. . . . It is clear . . . that Orange, as an immediate Community, has become less favorable than formerly to the carrying on of a Unitarian program. Undoubtedly, the change in the nature of the Community has been reflected in the life of the church. Another factor of importance is that the members which have for a long time contributed to the strength of the church are now growing older and can be of less service in an aggressive program. Time has lost many membes and made others less active. The significant thing is that younger people have not come in to aid where others have grown older, As a result of this, there is now a shortage of leadership in activities among those in the church and less desire for expansion. . . .

It has been seen as a part of the survey what the minister's relation to the situation is. While serving very well in some regards, it seems his qualifications are not adapted to an aggressive program which would includefinding new people and building the church.

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The church might go on for a few years approximately as it is at present. . . . But the danger of the financial situation is that some of the more substantial sources of help may be cut off in the near future and this might mean the diminishing of the minister's salary. . . .

The Field

It seems clear that Orange is not a very favorable field for the securing of additional membership. . . . The apartment house residents of Orange do not offer a fertile field . . . . There seems to be evidence, however, that in the other Oranges there are sdatisfactory fields from which younger progressive married people might be secured. Other liberal churches are reaching similarv populations. . . .

Orange does offer a field for service to a liberal church. There are real social problems which an alert church should have a part in solving and with which church people as such should be concerned. . . .

There are two other Unitarian Churches in neighboring communities, Montclair and Summit. Both are strong churches. About a half-dozen families have some contact with the Montclair Church who geographically would more naturally attend at Orange. About twenty families have some contact with the Summit Church who live more nearly in the Orange area.

What Might Be Done

Consideration has been given to the idea of relocating the Orange Church. If it were possible to have a Unitarian Church in a field further south, it would no doubt make it easier to strengthen the work. However, this does not seem a practical possibility, since the church property value is low and such an undertaking would involve great expense.

Another possibility that suggests itself would be for the church to undertake an institutional program for the service of the foreign and less privileged population of Orange. . . .

A third alternative would be an aggressive program of services and activities under an appropriate type of leadership which would aim to draw into the church, younger married people with children and young people. It would be necessary to find among these, persons capable of leadership in progressive and significant activities. To do this, the church would have to reach out to the other Oranges. The activities should embrace religious education, the young people's work, men's club, dramatics and general social activities. This last alternative would seem to me to be the most challenging and fruitful for the Orange Church. Certainly from the viewpoint of the expansion aims of the American Unitarian Association, it would be no less than tragic for the church in Orange to continue its present trend and to serve no larger group than at present. From a denominational viewpoint, it will be sincerely hoped that the present membership will be favorable to an advance program in this community that would be worthy of the real purpose of Unitarianism. If such a move could be developed before the passage of too great an interval of time, the church could count upon the genuine interest of the American Unitarian Association and the Regional Office.

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